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The Power of Cultivating Community When Marketing to Gen Z

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 3

Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. In this blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession, I’m diving into each one a little bit more. Here’s what’s been previously covered:

  1. Get super clear about what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.

  2. Diversify your marketing and play the long game by building equity in the brand house you own.


The third thing you should focus on is this:

Cultivate an inclusive community that authentically cares about something beyond themselves.

If you haven’t read my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post yet, I recommend you do so before you continue on. Pay particular attention to the part about inclusive communities, Supreme, and Gen Z, because that’s what I’m going to expand on today.

Caught up? Okay, let’s go:

The oldest of millennials are turning 40 this year, and the oldest of Generation Z are in the early years of tying the knot.

For the next ten years, you will be marketing to both millennials and Gen Z. One generation grew up experiencing September 11th as tweens, teens, and young college-aged students, and one generation grew up post September 11th. These two generations approach the world very differently from one another.

One of the things that is important to millennials when choosing wedding vendors is that they want to know if they can potentially be friends with you. They want to know if you personally are someone they could grab a glass of wine with or catch up with over brunch, long after the wedding day.

Over the past ten years, Boomer and Gen X wedding pros struggled with this more so than their younger peers as their mindset tended to be, "I already have friends, I just want to do your wedding, go home to my family, and have you trust my talent enough to hire me again for your future baby showers, kids' birthdays and mitzvahs, and your company's holiday parties and incentive events."

For the most part, wedding pros of all ages came around to the idea that talent alone was not enough to make them stand out and shifted their marketing to be a bit more personal – sharing more about themselves and giving a peek behind the scenes into their lives.

What you will find is that while sharing your personal life will still work well in attracting millennial clients, it will not resonate as effectively with your Gen Z clients. In fact, Gen Zers will be turned off the most by wedding pros who post their kids in every photo. These clients are the children of the mommy blogger and Instagram influencer generation and have first-hand experience in having their lives splashed across the Internet without their consent or knowledge. As a result, this is a generation that fiercely values their privacy. For the older members of the group, their mindset as consumers tends to be, “If you won’t respect the privacy and wishes of your own children, how can I trust that you’ll respect my privacy and wishes?”

Do not underestimate how strongly they hold this value. While you don’t necessarily need to stop posting photos of your kids altogether, if that’s currently a large part of your marketing, I’d recommend figuring out a balance so that you can still appeal to millennial clients while not alienating Gen Z clients.

Unlike millennials, Gen Z does not care that much about whether or not you are someone they could be friends with. Gen Z wants to know if your other clients are people they could potentially be friends with. They want to be part of an exclusive yet inclusive community that you have created.

Your Goal Is To Create a Community, Not a Cult

Some business coaches will tell you to select 4-6 topics to talk about in your wedding marketing and rotate through them in your social media, blog, and newsletter. While having a schedule is helpful, and a tactic I often recommend, my approach to what goes on that schedule is a bit different.

To effectively reach Gen Zers, you’ll want to base your marketing on your "life guidelines,” as I call them, so that you can remain authentic to who you are and also attract an audience and potential clients who connect with your values rather than just your story.

Remember, people may like your story, but in the end what they really care about is how you can make their own story better in some way. Not focusing everything on yourself also means that you can live your life and not have to worry about having to mine the same stories week after week of how you left your corporate job or how you met your spouse or how you took a leap of faith and opened your business with just $40 in your pocket.

Your goal is to create a community, not a cult. If your marketing is developed based on your life guidelines, you will cultivate a community who can connect with one another over the meaningful things they have in common rather than over merely being a fan of you.

Plus, you are human, which means you are going to inevitably make mistakes, exercise poor judgment, or have some days where you are not the best version of yourself and say or do something you later regret. If all of your marketing is based on fauxthenticity (aka “curated imperfection” and select Gram-worthy “flaws”), you will face a backlash any time your carefully-designed mask slips, because you were actually the one who built the pedestal for yourself.

Authenticity doesn’t mean laying all of your cards face up on the table, and if your marketing is based on your life guidelines rather than on your “Story of Me,” you can allow yourself to truly be yourself, to share your opinions on a variety of non-surfacey issues, to apologize when you’ve dropped the ball or hurt someone, to not be “on” all the time. It is a much healthier way to run a business, in my opinion.

What Are “Life Guidelines?”

Your "life guidelines" are based on your core values – they are essentially how your core values play out in your daily life, how you ensure you actually walk the walk of what you say you believe.

Using your life guidelines in your marketing is in addition to a client avatar, not as a substitute for it. The latter shows you the demographics and psychographics of who you want to work with (household income, where they like to shop, how they dine, etc), the former allows you to narrow that group down more specifically to how they approach life in relation to deeper issues. If you are creating a community of clients that could potentially be friends with one another, you will need to focus on more than ensuring they all carry a Neverfull and love SoulCycle.

I’ll share a few of my life guidelines and the “why” behind them as examples. If I am going to create a community of people who would want to hang out with each other and who I would enjoy working with as clients, then I want to focus on showing what I care about through my marketing and conversations, so that if it is something they care about too, they know they’ve found a group who is on the same page.

My Life Guideline: Whenever possible, support the original artist.

One of my core values is being a good steward of the resources I have. One of my life guidelines to ensure this happens is: whenever possible, support the original artist.

While I rarely talk about being a good steward, supporting the original artist is something I talk about more frequently because it is something I am passionate about.

This is a lesson I really learned after owning a business. Before, I didn't see the issue with buying a well-made knock-off (or, as they're more commonly called these days, "dupes") because I viewed it as being smart with my money. I thought being a good steward meant making your dollar stretch as far as it could go. I later learned that being a good steward means using every dollar as a "vote." Now when I spend my money, I am "voting" for the people who originally created the products/designs/ideas, not the copycats. And because my budget didn't magically increase when I changed my mind on this, it means I usually end up buying better, but buying less.

Not supporting the copycats matters to me. I've had people steal my work and pass it off as their own (not just newbies, but industry veterans, too), and it's hurtful, especially when done by someone I considered a friend.

I once read an interview with Tory Burch where she said she still gets upset when people steal her designs. It made me feel better that the founder of a famous fashion brand had those feelings as well, but it didn't surprise me because the creative work we all come up with, develop into something marketable, and put out into the world is deeply personal. After all, how many of us jokingly refer to our respective companies as our "first baby?"

When someone copies your ideas, they are hurting you, they are hurting your family, they are hurting your employees, they are hurting the creative community and the industry. It is personal and it is okay to be upset about it. Don't allow a grudge to rob you of future creativity, but you don't have to pretend it doesn't hurt.

When it comes to the community you’re cultivating for your clients, don’t forget your community of professional colleagues. While I'd recommend spending your time and energy with the people who support your original work, sometimes you do need to take an extra step to give yourself mental and emotional space. If the person who took your ideas was a friend, you don't have to allow them to be part of your inner circle anymore nor someone you continue to do business or collaborate with. You are also allowed to unfollow them on social media. Focusing on the good sometimes means removing the people who hurt you yet somehow think they still have a right to suck up your oxygen. You can set healthy boundaries now while still allowing for the possibility of redemption later on down the road. (I recommend the book Beyond Boundaries – part of the Boundaries series by Dr. John Townsend – if you're dealing with whether or not to let someone back into your life.)

My Life Guideline: People have a right to live fully, not just merely.

Another one of my core values is that every life has equal value. One of my life guidelines for this is the belief that people have a right to live fully, not just merely.

I am passionate about the fact that there is more to life than food and shelter. Basic needs matter, obviously, but so do art, athletics, and, yes, fashion and parties. The details matter. Being able to imagine, to create, to push yourself beyond what you thought possible, to feel self-confident and worthy of nice things, to be able to relax and joyfully celebrate life's milestones with the people you love and who love you matters. They matter a lot.

I want to spend my time with people who see everyone as fully human and worthy of every good thing life has to offer. More than that, I want to spend my time with doers – people who use whatever resources they have (money, time, creativity, literal votes) to help add good to the lives of others and who don't sit around waiting to "give back" later on.

It is not about which charities or organizations I am personally involved in – the people who resonate most with this life guideline likely also view generosity as a muscle to be developed and consistently exercised and not something to use as a PR or networking opportunity. They would probably get along with each other if they all found themselves in the same location.


These are examples of a couple of my own life guidelines. Yours may be different. Spend some time drilling down into your core values and examining how they play out in your life. How can you incorporate these into your marketing so that you are sharing your interest in something bigger than yourself?

Won’t My Life Guidelines Turn Some People Off?

If you use your life guidelines to shape your marketing, you are 100% guaranteed to turn some people off.

This is okay.

If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one. You are creating an inclusive community, yes, but you are also creating an exclusive community. You are creating a community where people can connect with each other based on what they value, which is going to be based on what you value. This will automatically exclude those who don’t share your values.

This isn’t about creating a bubble, and everyone won’t agree on every tactic of how you go about supporting the arts, for example. The point is not to believe all the same things, the point is to create a community built on the foundation of the ideas you and they find most meaningful.

Gen Z wants to know more about who you actually are on a deeper, more philosophical level than they do about the behind the scenes of your daily life or your favorite brands or what you made for dinner this week. Fortunately, since you’re still marketing to millennials while starting to market to Gen Z, your life guidelines often play out in your daily life. You can dive deeper into the “why” behind the choices you make in your day-to-day routine, allowing both marketing strategies to support one another while these age groups overlap as wedding clients.

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 2

Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. In this blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession, I’m diving into each one a little bit more. Here’s what’s been previously covered:

  1. Get super clear about what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.


The second thing you should focus on is this:

Diversify your marketing and play the long-game by building equity in the brand house you own.

As business owners, there are two key truths we have to pay attention to: first, we have bills we need to pay this week, this month, this year, and, second, there will be bills we need to pay in 20 years.

We have to play a long-game to ensure we will still have a business in 20 years, while still bringing in money to pay the bills that are due now.

The pressure to make money now because the lights need to stay on and payroll needs to be met now is very real. As a result of only focusing on the short-term pressure, wedding professionals tend to offer too many discounts too often and train people to wait for the sale, or they use dynamic pricing when they shouldn’t and dilute their brand’s long-term value. Instagram brings in clients now, so many wedding pros focus their efforts there, largely neglecting the other platforms that will help them still be around in 20 years.

When it comes to creating a sustainable brand, you’ll want to make the house you rent work for you, but focus the majority of your time and money building equity in the house you own.

The “house you own” refers to the parts of your business that no one can take away from you.

The “house you rent” refers to things that can be useful to your business but that you don’t ultimately control since they belong to someone else.

Everything that falls under the “house you rent” category could go away tomorrow, leaving you in hot water if those were the main things you’ve been investing in.

Here are some examples of things in each category:

The House You Own

  • Website

  • Blog (hosted on your website, not on Medium, Tumblr, or elsewhere)

  • Newsletter

  • Podcast (wholly owned by you, not one you host on a podcast network owned by someone else)

  • Workshops, conferences, or classes (owned by you, not by others)

  • Pricing strategies

  • Workflow and processes (how quickly your team returns emails and phone calls, your production turnaround times, your product shipping speed, etc)

  • Talent, skill, and depth of expertise

The House You Rent

  • All social media, including:

    • Instagram

    • Facebook Fan Pages + Groups

    • Twitter

    • Snapchat

    • Pinterest*

    • YouTube*

    • Weibo

    • WeChat

    • WhatsApp Groups**

    • LinkedIn Pages + Groups

    • Blogs hosted on sites owned by others (Medium, Tumblr, etc)

    • Podcasts hosted on networks owned by others

  • Advertising

  • Editorial Publishing (magazines, blogs, etc)

  • TV appearances

  • Public Speaking at workshops, conferences, or classes owned by others

*Pinterest and YouTube are often misunderstood and sometimes assumed to be only visual and video search engines. While they are search engines, they are also social media, and your strategies should approach them as both.

**Depending on which countries you work in, WhatsApp groups can be a key marketing tool.

The Numbers That Matter

We all know that 1,000,000 followers does not equal $1,000,000 in the bank. We all know that we should pay attention to the numbers that matter, but sometimes we aren’t sure which numbers those are. The numbers that matter – for both the house you own and the house you rent – are dependent on your specific goals, so they may not be the same numbers that your colleagues or competitors are measuring.

For example, 95% of the people who purchase from me because of an Instagram post never doubletap the photo. This is primarily because I sell business-related services and products and the people who purchase them tend to be more established in their careers and don't necessarily want their competitors to know what issues they may be stuck on or what improvements they are making in their company. Part of it is about protecting their ego and part of it is protecting their competitive strategy.

So for Instagram, I don't get hung up on the number of likes, because I know that it is still moving people to action behind the scenes. I pay attention to the number of sales each promo post generated and the number of returning vs new customers. Returning customers means that what I offer has proven value and new customers means that what I offer is relevant to where they’re currently at. For my specific goals, these are the numbers that matter.

Here are some examples of brand expansion or ancillary goals you may have and the numbers that can help you achieve them. Companies who are looking to collaborate with you also have tighter marketing budgets these days, so they are going to look at the platforms you have in place, the audience you can bring to the table, as well as your conversion track record. These are general rules of thumb as they can vary based on the specific company you plan to collaborate with:

The numbers that matter for Book Deals

HOUSE YOU OWN:

  • Blog subscribers

  • Blog visitors (unique visitors and returning)

  • Blog bounce rate

  • Time spent on site

  • Newsletter subscribers

  • Newsletter open rate

  • Newsletter clickthrough rate

  • Podcast subscribers

  • Podcast downloads

HOUSE YOU RENT:

  • Twitter followers (minimum 5000 active, real followers)

  • How often you tweet original content and insights (posting inspirational quotes, retweeting compliments or press mentions, or using IFTTT or another service to auto-link your Instagram or Facebook posts doesn’t count in this number)

  • Twitter engagement rate (number of retweets, comments, etc)

  • Instagram followers (organic, real followers – no purchased/bots)

  • Instagram engagement rate (real engagement – no purchased, bots, or your social media manager commenting on your account from five different accounts they manage (this last one may seem like a strategic way to “beat the algorithm,” but agents and publishers generally frown on it)).

  • Facebook Fan Page likes

  • Speaking engagements (do others consider your advice valuable and worth spending money on?)

The numbers that matter for TV Show Deals

HOUSE YOU OWN:

  • Blog subscribers

  • Blog bounce rate

  • Blog visitors (unique visitors and returning)

  • Newsletter subscribers

  • Newsletter open rate

  • Newsletter clickthrough rate

  • Podcast subscribers

  • Podcast downloads

HOUSE YOU RENT:

  • YouTube subscribers

  • YouTube video view counts

  • Twitter followers (live tweeting is a big deal in TV marketing, especially since Shonda Rhimes started requiring her casts and crews to live tweet during episodes and interact with fans and other shows followed suit)

  • Twitter engagement rate (not just how often people retweet or engage with you, but how often you engage and reply back to them)

  • Instagram followers (organic, real followers, no purchased/bots)

  • Instagram engagement rate (real engagement - no purchased, bots, or your social media manager commenting on your account from five different accounts they manage (this last one may seem like a strategic way to “beat the algorithm,” but agents and publishers generally frown on it)).

  • Facebook Fan Page likes


The numbers that matter for Product Line Collaborations

HOUSE YOU OWN:

  • Sales numbers

  • Names and types of celebrity clients you’ve previously worked with (primarily applies to planners, chefs/caterers, floral designers, photographers)

  • Website visitors (unique visitors and returning)

  • Length of visitor time on website

  • Blog subscribers

  • Blog visitors (unique visitors and returning)

  • Blog bounce rate

  • Blog link clickthrough rate

  • Newsletter subscribers

  • Newsletter open rate

  • Newsletter clickthrough rate

HOUSE YOU RENT:

  • Instagram followers

  • Instagram engagement rate

  • Facebook Fan Page followers + Group members

  • Facebook Fan Page + Group engagement rate

  • YouTube subscribers

  • YouTube video view counts

  • Pinterest followers

  • Pinterest engagement rate

  • Pinterest clickthrough rate

  • Twitter followers

  • Press (are other people willing to give their brand’s stamp of approval to what you do?)


Other People’s Goals

There may be goals you have that are dependent on the goals of people you want to collaborate with. For example, if your goal is to work with a certain planner or designer and their goal is to get published more often or to be internationally known, then they are going to consider how often you are published, where you are published, and the strength of your relationship with those editors, as well as how many followers you have on Instagram and where those followers are from.

You may not care about getting published at all because it doesn't directly drive sales for you, but if your dream collaborator cares about it, then getting published needs to be on your priority list. Sometimes the numbers that matter to you will be in support of the numbers that matter to others because that's how you'll reach your ultimate goal.


You don’t necessarily need to have all of these – not every book publisher requires you have a podcast, for example, even though others do. Also, given the numbers listed above, you may be tempted to purchase followers or use a follow/unfollow service. Please don’t (and don’t let your social media manager do this either), as these practices can get your account flagged and penalized.

Is That Styled Shoot Worth It?

Styled shoots can be a strategic way to invest in your long-term success as they can be useful for showing what you can do creatively, especially if your past clients haven’t had the types of budgets you’d like to ultimately work with. They can also be useful for flexing your creative muscle when you feel like you’ve been in a rut. They can, unfortunately, also be a major drain on your time and money, and in some cases can hurt your vendor relationships.

The number one question related to photo shoots that I get asked from product-based wedding professionals (stationers, rental companies, caterers, florists, etc) is, "How do I turn down styled shoot requests without making the planner or photographer mad?"

The people who have to spend money on tangible products aren't exactly excited to come on board for a styled shoot that doesn't have a solid publishing plan set up beforehand. It costs them more than time and creative energy, and they often don't see any return on the actual cash they invested.

questions to ask if you are planning to produce or participate in a styled shoot

AS A STYLED SHOOT PRODUCER:

  • Where do I want this published?

  • Can I work with the media outlet to get pre-approval for publication or will I “shop it around” for publication afterward?

  • How much will it cost in actual dollars spent?

  • Does it benefit every participant or just me? Does it benefit each of us in proportion to what we’re contributing?

  • Will I get additional advertising in exchange for producing the shoot for a third-party magazine, website, or blog? (See my post on working for free without getting taken advantage of)

  • Will publishing this shoot on my own site, blog, or social media accounts violate the media outlet’s exclusivity requirements? If so, how long will the stories or photos be promoted by them before they are buried in favor of the next shoot?

  • Does this support my short-term or long-term goals?

  • Does this position my brand in the way I want to be known?

  • Do I get to flex my creative muscle or will I be producing more of what I am already known for?

AS A STYLED SHOOT PARTICIPANT:

  • What is the publishing plan for this shoot? Is the coverage already guaranteed or will the shoot be “shopped around” for publishing afterward?

  • How much will participating cost me in time and actual dollars?

  • Is there a budget to cover the hard cost of goods I am providing? (Flowers, film, cakes, food, delivery driver payroll, etc)

  • If not, am I okay paying out of pocket for this particular shoot?

  • Is someone else being paid for the shoot? (Another vendor contributing goods, the shoot coordinator/producer, the photographer, etc)

  • How and where will I be credited on this shoot? (In the editorial lede or at the bottom? In the headline? In an Instagram caption and tag? Will the tags be individually visible or will they be stacked on top of each other so no one can read them?)

  • Will I get additional advertising in exchange for the cost I am contributing? (See my post on working for free without getting taken advantage of)

  • Does this support my short-term or long-term goals?

  • Does this position my brand in the way I want to be known?

  • Do I get to flex my creative muscle or am I being asked to create more of what I am already known for?

  • Will publishing this shoot on my own site, blog, or social media accounts violate the media outlet’s exclusivity requirements? If so, how long will the stories or photos be promoted by them before they are buried in favor of the next shoot?

  • Money aside, is participating the right thing to do because of the clients or opportunities the shoot producer has sent me in the past? (There are certainly times when being a team player or returning a favor needs to win out.)


CREATING STYLED SHOOTS FOR INSTAGRAM

Please think twice about spending money on styled shoots that are primarily for Instagram.

It is true that reach and engagement on Instagram is down compared to this time last year. If your real wedding content isn't getting as much engagement as it used to on Instagram – and if the photographs are good – it's not because of the content itself. It's because of the algorithm.

Yes, Instagram has been making vague claims that their algorithm won’t impact the user experience, but it definitely has (it is more difficult for IG to make money from a chronological feed, which is the real reason it was changed). Furthermore, algorithms are how Facebook makes its money on all of the platforms it owns. Instagram may be a free social media platform, but it is not a charity. Getting you to pay to promote your posts is literally their business model. They are not in the business of making you money if there is no financial benefit for them.

Posting styled shoots on Instagram that you are also publishing elsewhere is smart, but creating expensive styled shoots just for Instagram is not. It will not solve your problems. All you will be doing is spending a lot of money on the house you rent, a house you have no business control over.

My Take On Social Media Breaks

I am all in favor of taking a break from social media if you feel your mental health needs it. It is important to remember however that social media amplifies a pre-existing issue, it is not the cause of an issue.

Feeling like there's more you're missing out on while abundance surrounds you is part of human nature dating back to Eden. The difference now is that we can see what more people are doing so we are not limited to only comparing ourselves to people we know from our community or in the entertainment industry. If social media is bringing up feelings of envy, unworthiness, or inadequacy for you, then it's important to use your break to get to the root of those issues and work on them.

It's become popular in some circles to say that you don't really need social media anymore, that you can do things the "old fashioned way" through newsletters, blogs, or podcasts. While it's true you should use these things to your advantage as they are the house you own, they are not the old fashioned way.

The old fashioned way was taking out a second mortgage on your actual, real-life house so you could pay $10,000 or more per month for a publicist to get you featured in wedding magazines or on TV. Anyone who started their business after 2007 has social media to thank for getting them to the point they could walk away from it at all. Also, because the benefits of social media can work like compound interest, they won't know if that break actually helped or hurt their business until 2-3 years afterward.

Social media may not be the house you own, but it is still a key factor in today’s marketing mix. If you find yourself addicted to it or needing to carve out more time for focused work, set boundaries around how you use it (you can use an app like Freedom to help you). Take a short-term break if you feel you need to and can afford to, but please do not take the advice of people who say you "don't need it at all" if they have never had to build their own business without it.


As you can see, focusing solely on social media won’t get you what you may be dreaming of. Focusing solely on the visual social media platforms won’t get what you what you may be dreaming of. Neglecting the seemingly slower moving marketing platforms like blogs and newsletters is a mistake. Let your competitors skip the tedious, boring parts of marketing in favor of the shiny, ego-boosting thing. Focus your efforts on the things that will help ensure you are still around in 20 years.